How to DO San Francisco on the Cheap

San Fransisco wharf- king crab

There is no such thing as a bad itinerary for visiting San Francisco. Matter of fact, your itinerary should never look exactly like anyone else’s. San Francisco has a ton of quirky, fun and relatively inexpensive things to do. There are a few things that I suggest every first-time visitor experience, but the rest is up to you and your imagination.

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Top 10 Cheap San Francisco

I used to visit San Francisco (don’t call it San Fran) often when I lived on the west coast. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge

Whether you need to pay a toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge depends on which way you are going. It’s free to drive across it going north, from San Francisco toward Sausalito. To get back into town going south, you’ll have to pay a toll.


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2. Must See San Francisco

Stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf and laugh it up with the sea lions at Pier 39 is so cheap, it’s free.


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3. Book seats at the Audium.

The Audium is a 49-seat San Francisco theater designed specifically for sound movement or “sound sculptures.” Its 176 speakers are embedded in the walls and suspended from the ceiling to create the ultimate listening experience with sound moving past, over and under listeners.


4. Visit the Cable Car Museum.

It’s a top 10 attraction and it’s free too. That’s an 11 in this expensive city.


5. Go Antique Shopping

Visit the Alemany Flea Market to score inexpensive treasures on a Sunday. Or, if you’re a serious shopper and collector, head to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire or the Treasure Island Market.


6. Get a Panoramic View

of the city atop one of the tall buildings downtown. My favorite from this past trip was the Top of the Mark atop the Intercontinental, offering 360 views of the city, bays, and bridges.


7. Park It

Take a picnic lunch at the Fine Arts Center.


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8. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps


Marvel at the mosaic staircase in Golden Gate Heights (the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project), and then walk all the way up it and continue to Grand View Park for stunning panoramic views of SF, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Golden Gate Park.


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9. Where to Eat

Eat dinner in North Beach or a hole in the wall in Chinatown. It’s a top 10 must in San Francisco. And there are still quite a few places where the menu won’t break the bank.


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10. Where to Drink Wine

Do enjoy some local wine in “urban wine country” or the East Bay area. You can find wineries in a warehouse and even an old naval hangar. Berkeley winery Donkey & Goat is in a former ink factory and not far from another winery, Broc Cellars.


Bonus Activities:


11. Where to Drink Beer

Or if you prefer beer, Faction Brewing in Alameda has picture-perfect views of San Francisco and the bay from a sunny patio. The brewery regularly has food trucks visit if you want to have a meal.


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12. For Some Fresh Air

Definitely Top 10 material. One of my favorite childhood memories was a trip to Redwood Regional Park, an East Bay gem full of second-growth Redwoods. It provides a peaceful break from nearby city life and has a variety of hikes and bike rides.


For another great place for fresh air and seafood checkout 72 Hours in Portland Maine.


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  1. Angela Ricardo Bethea

    San francisco is such a beautiful place to visit. I can’t wait to visit that place you mention.

  2. Katie

    This looks like so much fun! We went to SF with kiddos, so our tourist scene was a bit different than yours. I’m glad you had a fun trip!

  3. Pellet Mill

    Driving across the golden gate bridge is really cool. It is one of my dream to go through the golden gate bridge one day. So this is a really nice suggestion to me, thank you.

  4. Menaka Bharathi

    Oh my! how lovely these pics are. I would want to visit the places too. Let me check when I actually can

  5. Nicole F

    San Fransico is on my list of places to travel! From all of the pictures, it’s so beautiful and I really want to experience it.

  6. Ana Ojha

    San Francisco is on my wishlist for a long time and hopes to visit during the end of this year! Thanks for sharing the complete guide! I’m going to pin it for my reference!

  7. Ithfifi

    This is somewhere I really want to visit, there are so many amazingy places in America I want to go to, actually! I love the sound of the Audium, I’d never heard of it before and fantastic advice about everyone’s plans being different. All of these places and idea’s sound like a great vacation! Can you get close to the sea lions in Fisherman’s Wharf? That sounds super cute!

  8. Joanna

    I have always wanted to go to San Francisco but I didn’t make it to the States yet. I would love to walk along Fisherman’s wharf and then go taste some of the local beer at Faction Brewing.

  9. Elizabeth O

    San Francisco is such a beautiful place to visit. Many insights we need to visit there. I can’t wait to come back their soon.

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